CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A group of West Virginian’s are calling on congressional leaders to put a stop to deep cuts to Head Start programs in the state.
“Close to 400 hundred children, 400 hundred slots were lost,” said Head Start Director Susan Stafford. “Staff was up to 80 staff people that lost jobs because of the sequester.”
A coalition of families, community members, faith groups and state leaders held a vigil Thursday in Charleston on the steps of the Robert C. Byrd Federal Building to create awareness of these funding cuts.
“We can’t stand it, our children are suffering. They’re not even getting services, they may qualify for the Head Start program and they may even have a slot but they can’t even get there because the transportation’s not given to them,” said Kathy McCormick, Executive Director of the Service Employees International Union District 1199.
The coalition believes the cuts will prevent access to programs that offer comprehensive education and health and social services, leaving many families and children with nowhere to turn.
“In my program alone I had to decrease my enrollment by 40 children. I served 236 in the Head Start program and I’m down to 196,” said Stafford. “I had to close two classrooms and lay off two staff members.”
And Stafford warns that it’s only going to get worse with another round of sequester cuts scheduled for next year and that will only be the beginning.
“We are hoping that Congress will listen to us and stop the sequester,” said Stafford. “From what I understand it’s in the legislation to continue every year for the next nine years and if that continues that’s going to be half our programs at least.”
Thursday also marked the launch of a legislative sign-on letter written by Senate Education Chair Robert Plymale. McCormick said something needs to be done soon because the children are suffering.
“How many children with bright minds are we not giving them a service to learn and the ability and the opportunity to better themselves,” she said.
The coalition is led by the WV Council of Churches, the WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, WV Citizen Action Group, the WV Center on Budget and Policy and dozens of other partners.
The coalition hopes their actions will ultimately lead to the creation of legislation which will stop future sequester cuts.